"For You O Lord are a shield about me, You are the glory and lifter of my head. Psalm 3:3

"For You O Lord are a shield about me, You are the glory and lifter of my head. Psalm 3:3

Monday, May 2, 2016

How It Works, Foster Care Logistics

Your phone rings and on the other end is your caseworker, sometimes CPS (Child Protective Services) and sometimes your agency caseworker (agencies contracted through your local DHS, Department of Human Services).  It goes something like this, "Hi, we have a child...can you take them?"  Now here's where the detail-oriented side of me begins to pace and fidget, where are the details?  Gender, age, reason for removal, how long will they be in the system?  Well, that just depends on so many moving parts.  And since this process is an untamed beast, let's at least try to start from the beginning and let's attempt to shed light on what many don't know about this process, myself included, until recently.  From FAQ's to the constant stream in my own mind, a dialogue and a snapshot into our experience but by no means would I try to put this beast in a box.  The beast doesn't fit and I would in fact say that she is on a pendulum track and she can swing back and forth at any given moment, driven by media, circumstance, reality, and government funds.  So I'll try to simply explain it as it stands today through my lens and meager knowledge.

Why is a child removed?
This answer goes in so many directions, there's no simple response here.  Typically in Oklahoma it's neglect, followed by abuse and then the offshoots from that, failure to protect, negligence, babies testing positive for substances at delivery and so on.  Teachers, nurses, doctors and folks in those fields are required by law to report suspicion of any of the above.  Referrals can be anonymous to the DHS hotline, police can be called, including principals and supervisors as well in the reporting.  Once so many referrals are made and/or if the circumstance given is extreme enough, the child(ren)/baby is removed, but not before an extensive and quick process of "telephone".

A game of telephone.
DHS is the mothership and she has many extensions, one being CPS.  So upon question of should a child/baby be removed, CPS contacts the the District Attorney (or Assistant DA).  The DA/ADA files a motion, goes before the judge and petitions for the removal of the child.  The judge either grants or denies the petition and based upon that, the child is/isn't removed.  The DA/ADA communicates back with CPS and they move forward.  In emergency situations, police make the call to DHS and/or the court, the same procedure follows.

Where the child is coming from?
Was this a home removal, meaning the child is or will soon be removed from their home?  Is that "home" their biological family's home, a kinship (family member) home, another foster home?  Could it be from the hospital because a mom tested positive for substances and they've decided the baby can't go home (because yes, babies who test positive for drugs go home with their moms every day)?  Again depending upon the situation, the answer to all of the above is yes.  How that plays out always looks different.  Police and DHS can show up at schools and take kids from there, they can go into the actual homes and remove them.  Foster parents walk into hospitals, emergency rooms and CPS offices every day and pick up children/babies.  Really it can happen anywhere.  They come to you with nothing or in some cases, a trash bag of a few items.  They come in the morning, noon, and night.  There's no rhyme or reason there.  Bottom line, they're coming from a place that for whatever reason isn't safe or capable of meeting their basic, bare minimum needs.

Services in the home.
Mentioned earlier, removal is a last resort for many situations.  And DHS strongly upholds the policy to keep families together.  For so many reasons I won't get into, they first explore the option of in-home services, classes (parenting, anger management, substance abuse etc.) and other means of support to prevent the child(ren) from being removed, taken into custody.
Next they explore kinship (family members) to see if they pass state background checks, if so, the child is placed in that home while home studies and more paper work are completed.  In many cases, kinship isn't an option, many can't pass a background check.  Again, the basic concept of in-home services is the state making their greatest effort to equip, rehabilitate and support parents while keeping their children in the home.

Placement.
Once a child is removed and placed in a foster parent's home or local shelter depending upon the child's age, a series of hearings in the court take place.  Once the case moves from CPS into DHS in the area of permanency, the foster parents are able and encouraged to participate in hearings, parent visits, family group conferences (I'll explain those in a bit) and any other meeting environment presented.  The biological parents are given an ITP (individual treatment plan) that addresses objectives for various areas (substance abuse classes, obtaining/sustaining employment and residence, weekly urine analysis etc.).  Basically, the state's plan to assist in reuniting parents with their children.  Despite what may seem obvious, DHS seeks reunification in most cases.  Placement of a child in the foster home remains unless kinship comes forward, the placement is "blown" (child runs away, child harms others in the home etc.), or the parents complete their ITP.  At that point the child is reunified.  If the parent doesn't complete their ITP a variety of scenarios play out.  The court can grant more chances and extended time for parents to comply, parents can relinquish their parental rights, the case by default moves towards termination (parental rights legally severed), adoption, and sometimes the child is continually moved into other foster homes.

How long will you have them?
I get this question a lot.  It's a question I asked with our first baby and I so quickly learned there's no answer and even if you think you have a general time frame, the answer I can best give is that anything can happen.  It can be a day or years.  Every day you wake up knowing something can change and DHS can come get the child.  We have learned to say, we have them today but not for forever.

Parent visits and family group conferences.
Parent visits are arranged by the DHS worker, you can transport the child weekly to the designated meeting place (for us it's a DHS office 30 minutes away) or the state can transport them (usually along with other children) for you.  Visits can last from 1-2 hours, 1-2 times a week.  I'll also say not every case includes parent visits.  Sometimes children are abandoned or bio parents are not permitted to have visitation by the judge.  For me this was a sleeper gut punch, I had no idea how sad a DHS lobby could be.  Parents trying to engage with their kids, some parents not at all participating.  Babies crying, confusion, brokenness, anger.  I'll never forget the first time I watched a toddler be pried away from his daddy's arms and by looking you can easily assess the abuse and neglect there, nonetheless that baby didn't want to let go.
Family group conferences are meetings set up by DHS to include all parties involved in the case, DHS caseworkers, supervisors, agency workers, foster parents, biological parents and therapists.  I've seen these be peaceful and productive and then I've seen them be hostile and leave you in tears.  The goal is unity and working together as a team, knowing all parties involved.  (Side note: this is my litmus test for how judgmental and ugly I really am deep down.  Truly putting all your chips in and sitting at tables with parents who have neglected, beaten, abandoned, and subjected their children to horrific things.  Being for them and coming from a genuine place of respect and support?  Some days I get there and other days I don't.)

So are you adopting her?
I get this question a lot.  The answer today, is no.  There are foster homes that have the title "foster to adopt", these folks are my personal heroes because their heart is all in and on the line.  It means that should the case move from the goal being reunification with parents and/or the possibility of kinship being an option for adoption is ruled out, is your home willing to keep the child with you with adoption being the next step?  If your home isn't "open" for adoption, then DHS quickly moves to find that home and usually begins that search from day one.  For us in this season, we are just a foster home.

Adoption through DHS.
You can adopt children/babies through DHS and there are lists and lists by county.  White, female babies tend to be the top request.  The older children get, the more problems (medical, social etc.) and race all come into play.  I have friends who have fostered, some even fostering sibling groups, and when the parents were unable to comply and/or relinquished their parental rights, they simply moved the file into the adoption extension of the DHS mothership and it moves fairly quickly.

"Aging Out" of the system.
Here's a topic that's not talked about much and honestly, it's a sad addition to the already heart breaking reality of the system.  I'll give a scenario here so it's easier to grasp.  Max is 6 years old, he's removed for domestic abuse and severe neglect.  He's the middle of a sibling group of 5.  He's removed at midnight and can't stay in the shelter so he sleeps on a cot in a CPS office until they can shuffle him out the next day.  He's separated from his siblings because most homes can't accommodate sibling groups.  So he starts acting out and harming the other kids in the home.  He's seen so much violence and drug use he begins acting out at school.  Foster mom says she can't handle him anymore so he "bounces' (quickly moved without explanation or transition) to another home.  This home is only in it for the monthly stipend ($500/month per child from the state to cover needs) so he shares a room and a bed with 5 other foster kids, none of who are being cared for in any way.  DHS ends up removing all of those kids for further neglect and he bounces again.  His parents are long gone and it's made clear to him he's unwanted, invaluable, and an inconvenience.  One day he wakes up and he's 14 years old, living in a group home (state housing for teenagers, usually low income accommodations) and before long he's getting into trouble with the law and ends up in juvenile jail until he can go back to a different group home.  At 18, they open the front door and wish him good luck with life.  This is called aging out.  Most of these kids end up back in jail.  Most repeat the behavior that got them removed from the first place (drugs, violence or worse) and a fraction end up becoming the homeless population in society.  A dark chapter in this even darker story.

Answers in foster care.
Bottom line, there are no short answers or pretty answers in foster care.  And there's also no silly or dumb questions, I would say and hope that any time people are curious, foster parents are willing to give answers to the best of their ability.  Every state is different, every case is different and therefore every lens from a foster parent is different.

Why do you do it, I never could.
I'll end with the most common question.  Why do it?  If at the end of this isn't a rainbow, it isn't adoption and instead an exchange for desperation, grief, and discomfort...then why do you do it?  Follow that up with the truth that dwells in all of us, I never could.  I can't pick up battered kids from emergency rooms, rebellious teenagers from shelters, or babies trembling from meth withdraws in NICU's.  There's nothing heroic or superhuman about it.  There's nothing about my calendar, weaknesses, or abilities that differ from anyone else.  I yell at my kids, burn dinner, bounce checks and screw it up every single day.  Everyone has a different destiny on their life, different capacity, different season to step into someone else's mess.  For us, our family in this season with our capacity, this is the way we are choosing to step in.  Whether it's a day, month or longer, I believe that love sown in deep doesn't return void.  I believe we fight not against flesh and blood but against an enemy seeking to still kill and destroy.  And if for a brief moment we can step in and somehow absorb the destruction in His might and pray into hopelessness, then I'm all in.  It's the laying down of the reality that we can't do this and it's just too much, because it's true.  But I trust in the beautiful exchange that He promises of beauty for ashes, oil of gladness for mourning, and hope for despair.  I won't settle for anything less than standing firm and fighting for those who suffer in silence.

How it works, how does this beast work when its passengers are helpless and broken?  The tracks that it runs on are shaky but they're the best it can do for now.  More and more we get into this, I see the desperate need for the church rise up because the government can't tame her.  Foster care logistics are smooth and simple on paper but when that phone rings, papers go out the window and you quickly come to understand you're fighting something bigger than yourself, beyond what you can imagine or handle.  I trust Him, I trust what He's doing and how He's moving.  I trust Him with her life even though I can't see what's ahead.
How it works is, you trust in the One who is who He says He is and that He will do what He says He will do...and you jump.  Because she's worth it, worth it a hundred times over.


Wednesday, April 6, 2016

When They Leave {Foster Care}

I've rehearsed it a hundred times over in my mind, that this isn't forever, it's only temporary.  Maybe if I rehearse it enough and somehow convince myself to agree with all the moving parts that contribute to this messy solution of her world, maybe then it won't hurt so bad and my heart won't break into a thousand pieces the day they come take her away.  When these two realities of her world and my insulated bubble run parallel and she's in your home and deep in your heart, at times you can forget the hell she comes from.  You keep it compartmentalized and claw for the control and order you don't have and then one day, these two realities intersect.
Yeah that upbeat little song strums on the radio about His goodness and faithfulness.  We carry on about the day with our agenda until I see the glow on my phone and recognize the number, knowing all to well it's because on the other end of that phone are words that oppose all we've fought for.  And I know He's good and I know He's in the business of putting things back together and I've seen Him work this broken craft into beauty, but right now I can't see through the darkness, this hard battle and truth be told, I don't even want to.  I'm face down in the arena of this fight and I don't know how to get up and lack the energy to even desire upright movement.  I crave control, answers, and following quickly behind, a numbness to hunger to draw close.

And Your faithfulness seeps into the smallest places of my being, beauty for ashes, oil of gladness for mourning, mantle of praise for my heaviness.

This phone call wasn't supposed to come, the one that says she's leaving us.  It's not what she needs, not what I asked for, and it's not what I've cried out to Him for this whole time.  I know what's best for her, I know the specifics of these realities she faces and I know more than I wish I did, that none of these options are even close to highest and best.  They just can't happen, there's no way it's even conceivable and even if it were, today and tomorrow wouldn't be the day because these things take time and she's not ready.

But these phone calls that come, the ones that say to pack her bags and get her paperwork together because this baby leaves tomorrow.  Those phone calls, they don't follow the rules of logic nor do they consider what she needs or how I feel.  Nah, those phone calls come when you least expect them and you learn to pull your car over quick because hot tears fall whether you want them to or not.  You turn your shoulder so those little faces don't see from the backseat, you stammer to ask as many questions as you can to make some sense out of what's about to happen.  Keep pulling the neck of your shirt up to catch the tears and mess coming down.  Everything is coming down, everything I trusted You with.  Suddenly fighting for strength and self control just to walk into a store for stamps, groceries, carpool.

Didn't You hear me all this time?  In the early hours of the day when I rose early expectant, assured You wouldn't let her go back?
Didn't You hear me as I held her little body and contended for specifics and stood on promises anchored in hope that You would do what I said she needed?
I know what's best here, not You.  

I know how to pack for temporary things, but learning how to pack to release them, yeah I'm not cut out for this.  Go ahead and strip away all comfort and control that's usually clung to when you leave your child with a babysitter or summer camp.  Leave that on the floor because details don't matter, feeding schedules concern no one but me, and you can pack her up well but know she's never coming back.  You scramble to do her laundry to give her back, your desperate search to make sure it's all there because when you find it days and weeks later, the heart breaks deeper.

And then you hear her cackle from the other room, innocence and unknown awareness for what's coming.  One day you will be here and tomorrow you'll be gone all under the false impression that because you can't talk we shouldn't function in any other capacity other than making an exchange.  So we do, we make those plans to meet and hand you over.  And I'll stand there in a hot heap of mess sobbing on the sidewalk, they'll shake their heads and try to assure me of things they can't promise.  You'll start to cry and I'll absorb that deep hurt in my gut that I'm signing the dotted line in agreement of this decision.  I'll beg them to please keep her safe, please don't let anything happen to her.  And their sympathetic nods and empty words make it worse as I slip back into my car.
Now put the car in drive and go forward.  Go wash soccer jerseys and spellcheck book reports.
How do you do that, when these two realities keep intersecting?

My grace is sufficient, My power made perfect in weakness.  
I'm the hope that holds you, the Stronghold that sustains you...and her.

Subconsciously aware of my immense weakness and only in that place does His strength continue to rise up.  You remember that you signed up for this fight and begin to acknowledge the ugliness brewing to the surface deep in my soul.  More than that, you learn how to see her empty car seat the whole way home and you learn that you have habits of glancing at her every few minutes.  You think you hear her and you learn to remind yourself that she's gone.  You learn to walk into your house and see an empty crib, unused bottles, and pockets of your schedule she once consumed.  You learn to fight for hope and fight the tension between mercy and desperation for the home receiving her to stay in contact with you.  Whether you wanted to be or not, suddenly aware that bubbling to the surface a stench of self righteousness and arrogance.  These are the people I ignore in grocery store lines, choose not to see on street corners, shake my head at in restaurants.  Disgust, judgment, hatred.  Somewhere along this journey I've bought into the lie that I'm better than them, that somehow their sin is worse than mine.  Now go and be light in the darkness and push up your sleeves because it's just as much my mess as theirs.
No you're in this now and your chest deep in messes you didn't make and you're following in line with a system that sent up its flag years ago but no one is coming, no the only thing coming is more kids, more darkness, more broken families.

So you go upstairs to tuck them in, your own babies needing you and unaware of what transpired today.  You've helped with homework and written notes for lunches, dishes have collected on the counter and your babies safely drift off to sleep.  And you come back downstairs sweeping the floor and all the while my heart lies in a heap of mess, waiting for a tender love to overwhelm me.  The fight continues in our hearts to not forget Your promises, not to forget His extravagance of kindness undeserved but yet awaits to be the source of all that we are.

You sit there counting the cost of it all as darkness knocks on the door and closes in quick, the invitation for going completely under awaits clothed in fear and disgust.
And You come and speak softly to me.  As the voice of the accuser comes on in a mirage of loud and strong, His whisper pierces sharper than any two edged sword and goes straight to my heart.

Her story doesn't end here.  You O Lord are and always will be her hiding place, because it's who You are and it's what You promise her.

It began with a yes and the real question here isn't what it has cost me but rather what it would've cost her if she had never received our love, Your great love, in the middle of inconvenience and discomfort the yes that brought her into this new, deep love.
Because what if what He says is true and what if He has begun and work and He isn't finished?
What if it's true that everything prayed into and sown into her life doesn't come back void but returns to her some thirty, sixty, hundred fold?
On my darling, what if He has set you on a new path and time in the heavens is on a different time table than I can comprehend?
What if this fight truly isn't against flesh and blood but against the dark spirits, against the enemy whose place in the end of this story has already been foretold...you lose, you've already lost.

And this invitation to trust in You, to trust that somewhere in this we can find You and You will be who you say You are and do what You say You will do, in desperation to grab ahold of faith in the unseen and stand firm in hope.  To trust in the Father in a process that feels like a vicious cycle of bringing in only to let go.  Because manna falls from the sky each day and I want to store it up and satisfy my hunger with logic and control, I want to know how this ends and I think the best place for her was with me.  Yeah You meet me in that place every time and You know me.
That it's not about being strong or super human but instead the leveling to the ground of how weak we truly are so that in that desperate place He can silence the enemy and call us deeper into a place of intimacy in the secret place.  Chasing down every thought captive and demanding it to align itself with the word of truth and settle for nothing less than a hope for the impossible.

And when they leave, oh yes Jesus Your faithfulness to find me in that place time and time again, we can all be found there.  Grateful to carry hope beyond existing realities and believe in Your higher ways that are not my ways.  Come find me and work this out for her good, I can't see through the ashes but I trust You when it doesn't seem possible.  Your nearness to her is her only good, it's my only good.
Fighting hard to stand firm and trust that this is worth it, we know it is.  Sufficient grace that imparts strength to call out what doesn't exist in front of us.  A love and a rescue that collects a thousand pieces and begins healing again and again.

Because great it Thy faithfulness, morning by morning new mercies I see.

"I thank my God every time I remember you,
In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because your partnership in 
the gospel from the first day until now,
being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will
carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."
Philippians 1:3-6  

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Our Journey

The other morning I met a dear friend for an early coffee.  She's a mama herself, a missionary recently moved back to the United States, a nurse, an incredible wife and lover of Jesus.  Her heart is gold.  Her life pursues the Father's heart for the orphaned, for the helpless.  Honored she would want my time and would want to discuss foster care.  Her heart has so many questions and fears, the same ones in fact I've had or currently still wrestle with.  From the details of daily rhythms to the broader scope the of the image of a foster parent.  What does she look like and how does she do it?

Subconsciously I've got this answered.  For me the image of a foster parent from the outside looks like some sort of saint.  A person with endless patience and compassion.  Possibly a large home, lots of open space in her calendar and heart.  No time for nonsense like shopping for expensive shoes, no desire for a $5 Starbucks drink, she's way above that stuff and content at all times.  She's sold out to the cause, maybe she takes care of herself but maybe she just doesn't have time for superficial things like make-up and hairspray.  She's got one thing on her mind, the orphaned.  Foster care.  And in that she's relentless and consumed, praying day and night for this child's life meanwhile seamlessly pursuing birth moms and blessing her case workers with homemade bread.  These babies come in and out and because her heart it strong as steel, made out of something thicker and tougher than most, she can release them into hard places and the next day receive another one into her home.  All the while she's getting dinner on the table and leading the torch in her community for this high need in dark places.  That's a foster parent, the measuring stick and the ultimate goal of duplication.

I used to think that's who she was.  That's what it takes to become a foster parent and unless you can somehow emulate her, you're just not cut out for this.  And I'll go ahead and not only completely miss the mark to measure up even close to anything about who she is but I'll also stay paralyzed because not only can I never become that woman, I've got this list of questions coated in fear and answers that don't come in pretty packages and sometimes the answers never come.  And sometimes I like shopping, overpriced coffee, and my house is busting at the seems as it is.  So why on earth would you even think about being a foster parent?  I think every foster parent can answer this differently because no one person has the exact same journey.

After I left that early morning coffee I got to thinking about our journey, our story thus far, only 18 months in.  How did we get here?  Where did it all begin?



For anyone, for any dream walked out, the seed is planted before time began, while we were in wombs of our mamas growing the Maker was writing plans and destinies.  And we can look back over the years and see the investment, the pivotal moments whether good or hard, the people that marked your life for forever, all of it used and an invitation to come in closer to who He is and what He's called us to.  That one day He would use all things for our good and put His beauty for ashes into our hands to step into places we never thought possible.

September 8th, 2014 I sat across from my husband in a booth and casual date night talk took an unexpected turn with one question from me to him.
"What would you think about foster care?"  He looked up from his plate and quickly responded "Uh yeah, sure."  He further explained that he would be interested in the discussion of fostering.  I had never entertained the idea of foster care.  Adoption?  Of course.  Foster care?  No way.
He kept eating and I was shocked at the topic matter now on the table.  I asked if I could look into it, do some research and he said yes.  So that night I stayed up pretty much all night.  I read every article, blog, and document I could get my hands on.  Statistics, records, percentages on anything and everything to do with foster care.  I woke up the next morning ready to go with my arsenal of my findings and next steps.  I convinced him if we wanted to position our family to say yes to the Lord, then we should just go ahead and be ready and by be ready I meant, be approved.  I had already found the perfect agency for our family, memorized their phone number and mission statement.  Normal approval, paperwork, home studies, back ground checks, personality tests, training, doctors' appointments etc. takes around 6 months.  More convincing that it would be at least half a year before we had to do anything.  He nodded in agreement and went to work.  Two months later there was a state seal of approval on our file and our home was deemed open for placement and we were officially waiting.  A week later I was comfortable on my couch, kids had been tucked in, about to enjoy some ice cream and that phone call came for our first placement.

Looking back at that story, I have a few thoughts and answers to my then questions at the time.  The basic common fears and concerns that by no means are absent from my heart but rather the constant pursuit of where we land on the spectrum today, tomorrow, for the unknown to come all the while counting the cost and knowing the end result is letting go.

Someone told me once that I needed to count the cost of foster care.  Make sure I know and have thoroughly considered what it will cost me and my family.  I now have an answer to that.

It will cost you everything.  

Your time, calendar, comfort, convenience, money, sleep, energy.  Not even addressing how and what price your heart pays.  How you learn to sit in meetings and hear beyond horrific realities about siblings and birth moms and you're the only one sobbing at the table because to them, they've heard it before and the norm is no longer alarming.  The cost starts to settle in and these two realities of my life and this other dark world slowly start bleeding together.  This so called cost and high price, for a long time I think I had it backwards.  I had full focus on me.  And so my answer comes just now, over a year in.

It's not about me and what it will cost me.  It's about these babies, these children and what it will cost them if we don't step in and love them.  

I'm not talking about rescue, I'm talking about the love and sacrifice to bring them in for a season without having my questions answered or my life unaffected by that choice.  My job isn't to rescue them because I can't, it's not that simple.  It's impossible.  But the bringing them in part, the answer is they will wait in that place until someone can open a home, a crib, a heart.  They'll stay in homes starving, sleeping in police stations, curled up on cots on CPS office floors, shaking in NICU's while drugs leave their bodies, waiting for a yes.  The yes that unlocks the bondage of their hell, the setting aside of comfort, convenience, and ease to take a step closer to the innocent.  Not asking to be the doorstep they come to but knowing we just happen to be.  High cost unfathomable to consider because the answer is nothing is unscathed.

And the letting go.  It's as hard as you imagine it would be, anyone who has let go can attest to that.  When you let go knowing they're going into dark homes or even when they're going into good homes, the release of a baby or a child is gut wrenching.  So this pain, this unthinkable letting go part of the deal, how on earth do you do that?  A year ago I didn't have an answer but today I do and I realize my answer could change a year from now and each person may have a different response but today here it is.

These babies and children need the love, attachment, safety, and care more than my heart needs protection from the pain of letting them go one day.

It's that simple.  That's how you let them go.  It's nothing to do with that woman who has a heart of steel and is all things consumed in foster care.  That lady, the one who can't be bothered with such silly things as lattes, I'm not her and I never will be and He's not asking me to be her.  I'm only me, with the heart and set of tools, imperfections, and immeasurable failure on a daily basis.  My heart is weak, vulnerable, fearful and selfish.  There's nothing that allows me to give them back any different from the next person.  Gratitude for His design that it's not about me and it's all about Him.  The One who promises strength in weakness and healing in the broken places.  And for all of the unanswered questions, the why's, the endless frustrations and grief, comes a desperation to crawl back to Him as cry out for mercy, more of whatever He has for me.  Learning to let go from that place and there's nothing easy about it but Jesus help me, it's worth it every time.

So our coffee ended and I walked away feeling like I talked too much, gave some really raw answers, rambled on about things that she hadn't asked about.  Not wanting to sound convincing or pushy that I know what's best for her precious family or that she should do this thing of fostering.  But I walked away knowing He's moving and stirring it up.  That this thing of bringing in the innocent pierces darkness with light and it shakes the gates of hell.  Desperate for the promise that light always wins over darkness.  The cross, the blood poured out for my rescue, for our rescue, the same sacrifice is carried in our hearts daily.  Wherever we are planted and whatever we set out to do, we are enough and when we aren't, oh how lovely the hands of the Father who equips and empowers for His glory and greatness.



Every family's journey looks different.  How incredible and creative that He would make it so.  Faithfulness of the Lord we can look back and see how hard it's been, knowing more trials are coming and choosing to trust Him when we can't see a way forward.
Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God's spirit is right alongside helping us along.  If we don't know how or what to pray, it doesn't matter.  He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs and aching groans.
He knows us far better than we know ourselves, our condition and keeps us present before God.  That's why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of
 love for God is worked into something good.  
Romans 8:26-28

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Into the Darkness

Years ago, our van approached them in the desert.  Their dark skin, thick accents, precious little eyes, boils and dirt covered, hungry bodies.  None of them with parents still living or anywhere to be found.  All of them labelled with those three letters that promise to eventually take their lives at an age far too young.  They hadn't seen rain or food in weeks and their bodies told that story.  We sat in the sand and cared for them, rationed out porridge and watched them eat with their hands while we quickly processed their reality.  What does a college student know of true poverty, sadness, hopelessness?
How do you even begin to have the capacity to respond and have anything to give to them?
They have nothing yet they laugh and sing under bright stars and night's sky, begging it to pour out rain and covering so crops can grow and endless thirst can be quenched.  And then it happens, a great rescue.  One drop, two drops and a downpour ensues.  Sounds I'd never heard and will never forget, worship, chanting of dancing and gratitude around a campfire in a circle.  He's faithful to bring the rain, in their darkest hour.  Rains of hope and promise.      

In the years and life that followed, that memory tucked away came back so quickly.  The phone call that once again interrupted my comfortable pace.  I see that number calling and I know what comes on the other side, a desperate plea to bring this little one in.  She's so many months old, she needs some breathing treatments, can you take her?  Yes of course we will take her.

I run around only to miss their school events, quickly cancel the afternoon's commitments, arrange carpools and rush home.
Lord Jesus be with me.  
Holy Spirit fall heavy on this place.
What can I control?  What can I organize and clean, gather, purchase?

Pour a cup of coffee and wait as the call comes to give word the police are going in for her, your yes gets her out of that house and out of that hell.  Before I know it, that state department car is in my driveway.  I see through the window there's more to the story, there always is.  A tube running into her nostrils because she doesn't breathe on her own.  Tanks of oxygen for reserve.  A machine hooked up to her heart to sound off alarms when her little body doesn't work as it should.  A worn 24 pack soda box packed full of her endless medications.  An empty, old Cheetos sack holding filthy clothes.  And a breathing treatment machine.  I can smell her before she gets in the door.  Neglect on a level my mind can't comprehend.
I can't get a deep breath in as I undress her and all I can say over and over is she's too small.  I realize she came into this world too early but she's too small, her body tells a story too.  Sign stacks of paper work and download an overload of information on medical equipment.  I'm in over my head and I know it.  I'm in over my head and I didn't agree to this.

She hardly cries, she can't take a bottle because a mouth doesn't work when it's rarely given the chance to practice and she drifts off to sleep.  She knows well her cry gets her nowhere and sleep pacifies the hunger pains and passes the time.  She's waiting to die, she's suffering in silence and it's made clear to her she is worth nothing.  I sit in my living room and catch my breath.
And I heard it, the whisper of the Holy Spirit to take her to a hospital.  Now.  I make a few phone calls appearing foolish and irrational, overreactive and I fumble for the medical equipment company phone number, I need to untangle wires and tubes to reattach them to portable units and get her there.  I don't even know her last name but I know she needs rescue.  The waiting room is packed and the staff never sees them, they see us and they move fast.  Their faces tell me what their ink is writing on charts.  She's starving.  Failure to thrive, unkept, uncared for, neglected and tossed aside.  A swarm of nurses and doctors, asking questions, they're calm and swift.  With every answer to a question, measurement, and exam, they move faster and with specificity.  Hours have passed and her tiny body lays in a crib, silver bars going up and nurses hustling with monitors going off, IVs going in, blood being drawn, catheters, all extracting the information they must have so that she lives, because she will be here for a long time.  A feeding tube goes in, dropped into a belly that hasn't been fed as it should.

I pace the room, make phone calls and demands.  She will leave this place some day but it can't be with me.  Lord Jesus I need a drop, no...I need a downpour.  I need movement and breakthrough.  I need a hope that's not a last resort but a true anchor of expectancy to carry me so I can carry her.
Child services, listen to me and listen well.  She needs more than I can give her, she needs a brave foster mama who knows this world of tubes and wires running in and out of little bodies.
One drop.  They find someone willing, she's brave and courageous.  She comes forward, out of the foster care family woodwork and says she will be that person, that mama.

Exhale and walk back into the room and I hear a new voice coming.  I hear a mama storming down the hall, I've learned to know what a mama is like when you take her baby from her.  Bursting into the room, hostility and defensiveness proceed her.  Ranting and raving about stuff that makes no sense and no difference.  Tough talk to a little body laying there fighting.  Nervous pacing and rambling.  She knows no different.  Her mama and her mama's mama know this scene all too well.  Their own babies taken and never brought back.  More ranting and helpless shame and anger unleashed.  I step out into the hall and tell these college age nurses, like I'm talking to myself years ago in that desert heat, I know policy says she can't walk out of here with this baby but you better get ready.  Because in a moment policy goes out the window and harsh reality takes over, be ready.  Oh sweet Jesus she just can't, come again and be her Deliverer.  More phone calls, case workers you hustle even harder because this baby needs you to, her life depends on it.  They agree.  Two drops.
Downpour.  The rains of rescue and hope ensue.

I see that mama swirling in emotions I'll never comprehend and all I can do is put my hand on her and tell her to go over there and talk sweet to that little body.  Go over there and be near to her and be great because she needs you to be great.  But she just doesn't know how, she's never seen it.  And I know it's time to leave but how?  How do you turn around and walk away?  Nothing in you says you can put one foot in front of the other but again He whispers that it's time to walk away.  So you drive home and you slip into your dark, sleeping house.  You scoop up those sleeping babies and weep.  The next morning you watch them chew and swallow food and you fight back tears at the table because how could anyone ever do anything different for their children?
The hard places you go hurt deep.

Into the darkness you wade.  We all do.  We all step into waters deeper and darker than we're made to handle.  We were made for rescue, for desperation for Jesus Christ.  That in the midst of a battle drenched in blood and death, the rescue is coming.  A hope that doesn't disappoint and a Warrior who is mighty to save and when we ask, let's us into a hard place we will never forget.  We take His hand and we walk on waves that were meant to drown deep.  Places where the enemy has reigned and then He comes in for rescue and takes what is lost and discarded and brings beauty for ashes, oil of gladness for mourning and hope for despair.  Places that wait for our yes to bring about how good He truly is.  A tiny glimpse into the heart of a Father who grieves and so graciously allows us to share in that.  The ability to feel and absorb the rains coming, drenched in His hope and promise because hope deferred makes the heart sick but steadfast trust in the promise gives us the victory every time.



So tonight we will tuck in our babies and try to make sense of it all.  We will weep in silence as our sword has been laid down for her, as she lay in that hospital bed.  She will live.  By the grace of God and His merciful rescue, she will leave that hospital one day and in the years to come I pray someone will tell her the story of her rescue.  He is good and He is Rescuer.
But as I walk back downstairs after goodnight routines the question burns in my heart...
How many more need rescuing and how many more don't ever get out?
Jesus, take my thoughts captive and please bring us into the darkness again soon.  Because soon that phone will ring and again You will show Yourself mighty in battle and we will stand in awe.
You're worthy, worthy and deserving of all the praise, and glory and the honor, beautiful Rescuer and Deliverer.

There's a root of our ancestor Jesse,
breathing through the earth and growing tree tall,
tall enough for everyone everywhere to see and take hope.
Oh may the God of HOPE fill you up with JOY, fill you up with PEACE, 
so that your believing lives filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit will brim over with HOPE.  Romans 15:13

Sunday, November 1, 2015

On Letting Go

The last meal I had with my daddy was baked breaded chicken.  I remember his wife soaking it in buttermilk before drudging it in the flour and breadcrumbs.  It was all I could do to keep it together until the end of the night.  History and memory bring pain to the present, we draw from what was to what is now and sometimes it hurts deep.  I watched him sit there so frail and at the end of his life, pained to sit and watch because he was a master at grilling and in all my childhood years I can't remember chicken being cooked other than on a grill.  But chemo doesn't pay attention to life rhythms and traditions, it changes things, even the littlest things.  And for my heart to take in someone else in my kitchen unaware how this was painful, this soaking chicken in buttermilk.  How silly, what does it matter?  Well now I don't understand the inner workings of a heart that grieves but I know for some reason it's taken me almost 7 years to soak some chicken in buttermilk and this past week I did, and silly it may be, it did my heart good.  When we push through that part where our flesh runs out and we have nothing left and the choice of being swallowed by darkness or lost in His love presents itself, and you take it.

For today, the inevitable lies ahead and I'm tempted to forget the altars I've built to turn around and remember His goodness and instead read into the vault of seemingly unanswered prayers and devastation.  The place the enemy loves to pull the hopeful into so that eventually you don't climb out and you quit contending and asking for the impossible.  That vulnerable place in need of rebuilding and desperate to glisten with hope, that Lord I asked you for life and found myself watching death, believed you for protection and the mess of destruction was more than I could bare.  Trusting and knowing He works all things for good for those called according to His purpose and yet when you find yourself on the edge of that cliff about to jump, doubt diligently attempts to creep in and the battle resumes.  Not of flesh and blood but the spiritual realms of darkness and forces of the enemy.  I find myself here and now, remembering being here months ago on this new path.  How soon it came and my heart not expecting to be here for many more months on this foster care journey.

Letting go.

I'll just say it and pose the question, the thing I'm asked the most besides "Are you going to keep him?" and that is the query, more so the statement "How do you let them go? I just couldn't let them go."  We're a year into this battle and my response is the same and I would be lying if I didn't admit I ask myself the same question.  I have been here before, we have been here before only this time I know the pain and grief coming.  The answer hasn't changed and I don't expect it to.
Me either.  I can't let them go either.  It's as hard and sad as you think it is.  Only more.



But let's go ahead and complicate things because foster care is so far from simple, just as any good thing worth fighting for is.  You're blind sighted, ill-equipped, weak, tired, and immature on this battle field yet the darkness comes, the arrows don't cease and holding up that shield of faith is exhausting.  The inevitable approaches, we signed the dotted line to say we are willing to get really good at letting go, we're actually in this to let go.  I don't want to get good at it.  And your name on that paperwork signs you up for the commitment to heart ache, the unknown, and this harsh reality of a dark world.  All delivered without warning or protocol.

Walking in the grocery store, working through my list and the phone rings.  We heard time lines earlier in the process, he will be with you for awhile.  Paper work for adoption so a forever family can come for him while he waits with us, well that takes time so we do our part of the stacks of documents meant to be filled out by his mama only she's long gone and not coming back for him, she just can't.  So you pour another cup of coffee and you put his precious life on paper, on a file in hopes the diagnosis and the medical reports don't scare anyone off.  And somewhere between us being told that it's a long process and with this baby it's not even guaranteed he will be wanted, until that mid store glance at my list, the phone rings.  A family member coming forward to adopt him, get him ready, he's leaving soon.

And those words are about as gut wrenching and foreign as I imagined they would be.  You see, you're the one in the NICU, signing papers and bringing him home into your world.  You're the one who pushes through the fears of how deep I go in love is how deep it will hurt when he leaves.  Loving him will fill him up and loving him will empty you and cost you everything.  Hours of phone calls, emails, visits and correspondence and all along you're determined to bring this in close, so that the ones invested deep remember this is a human life here, not a docket number or a statistic.
Your mind runs parallel with the realities at hand and your heart struggles to keep up and lead in truth.  Because His truth is truly the only anchor in this.  We can only love because He first loved us.

So take that love and run with it, have the hard conversations, tread into unknown waters and push down how scared you are because that whispering fear, the enemy's unending lies are waiting for my weakness.  And when the system again shows you how it's broken and overwhelmed, you have the choice of where to land on the spectrum.  I can do the bare minimum and just change his diapers, feed him, and swaddle for bed time.  I can truly wash my hands and draw up the list of why and how this complicates and shakes up my every convenience and after a few sleeps forget about it and move on. I can fall somewhere in the middle, catch myself holding him at arms length and yet wanting to let him deeper into my soul.  And then I can sell out.  I can understand the truth that in order to fill him full of everything he needs that means the emptying of me, of us.  A high cost.  A bounty on my time, energy, sleep, emotion, and nothing is unscathed.  If I'm honest and think for every foster parent, with each child, it's different and you find yourself somewhere on that spectrum throughout the process.  And I think it's okay, I think you give what you can and you know your limitations because the further deep you get, someone and something pays the price.

Which brings me back to the letting go, someone asked me what it feels like to let go.  What does it truly feel like when no one is watching, there's no glam or glory, when you do all the work only to have no rights, no legal leg to stand on, only to let them go?  I would say it begins with the day you decide where you're going to start on the spectrum.  Once you get past the decision that you're not going to guard your heart with the thought that this is only temporary, once you decide you're all in...well that's the moment you've chosen a deep, foreign ache like no other.  And that ache will show itself in various and unexpected ways.  There's no prep or professional delivery for the hard conversations.  You're walking into a dinner banquet only to stand in a parking lot fighting back tears on the phone because these babies are moved like luggage and when you swing to the other end of the spectrum and fight like you would fight for your own kids, there's no settling and you grit your teeth to find a compromise.  Then you dry your eyes and compose yourself and walk back into your reality.



Then one day you get a date, the day he will leave and although you hope you will see him again, something deep inside says this could be it.  Mind races and so quickly you can come up with a long list of your worst fears and worse case scenarios.  The statistics roll through your head like clock work, the evening news doesn't help, and you hush the alarms sounding off that keep you up at night.  Your mind doesn't want to settle down and your heart grasps for solid ground.

Oh how the enemy can feed the lies faster than I can ingest them.  The whispers that it's his territory and I'm playing a game I'll never win.  That no part of this can yield hope or life because his darkness blankets all over this reality and nothing can save this sinking ship.  Hopelessness, depression, discouragement, and fear rule the day.

That's what we buy into when we lose our gaze of the One who uses him as a footstool.



Letting go means a desperate yes to the Lord to come comfort and bring peace beyond our understanding.  A chance to learn, to know quickly when I'm leaning on my own thoughts and strength it brings me closer to the lies awaiting to swallow me whole, and this baby too.  Clinging to the Lord's word and declaring His promises as this baby's hope and future.  It's sitting your kids down over cookies and telling them as simply as you can that he is leaving, that their love is enough, that soon they won't be sad anymore.  It's a desperate running start to stay enough ahead of them because they follow your lead and look to you for how to handle it.  So mama you had better be filling your cup every morning in the dark early hours.  You had better contend for your flesh to decrease and immeasurable increase of God's presence because it's the only thing that sees you through this release that's coming soon.



And then from downstairs I hear your coos, you're awake and you are ready for a bottle, ready for a love so deep and strong, and a goodbye coming in the weeks ahead.  So I'll rock you in the rocker my mama cuddled me in and I'll tell you my love for you, our love for you.  You need to hear it, you are worth it all.

Dear Little One, because that day will come when I've packed you up and kissed you a thousand times.  And my heart and mind flashback to the day I walked into that NICU and sobbed just looking at your little body, the way I couldn't see the print on the hospital discharge summary of the delivery room through my tears.  How desperate we were to just get you home and into a family.  How the daily appointments overwhelmed because you needed so much care and help.  I bathed you and breathed you in long and deep, your soft curls and sweet eyes.  In a few weeks I'll buckle you in and tuck the blanket around your little legs one last time.  I'll watch you in the mirror at every stop light and cry out to the Lord to go before you, He just has to go before you.  I'll drive you to her house and watch her face light up to see you, she loves you and she's waited for you, for this day.  Steaming hot tears will continuously flow and I'll try to put words together, closing remarks, last minute details to stall the moment and try to fill the empty space in the moment, the empty space quickly growing in my heart.  I'll tell her to call me whenever she needs me, I'll be here in a second.  I'll lay down my life for this precious one,  for you my Little One.  Then it's time, time for you to start your life with her and time for me to leave.  I'll fumble my keys into the ignition and pull away, I'll watch you in the rear view mirror as long as I can and weep.  I'll weep over you because you are the most valuable in the kingdom and you are a son of the most high King.  I'll grieve letting you go because it goes against everything in a human heart to bring in deep only to release into the unknown.
Oh my Little One, tonight I will climb into my bed and your crib will be empty and so is my heart, our hearts.  Tomorrow His mercies will be new and He will restore and heal our hearts.  Eventually I'll quit thinking I hear you, I'll wash and put your clothes away, I'll try not to cry when I stumble to answer how many kids I have, I have 5 no...4 kids.

And my little one, from the minute we brought you home you would hear your daddy's voice and you would slowly move your head towards the sound, the low tones of him talking to the girls, talking to you, talking to me.  In the night I hear Him reveal promise to me over you, dear little one.  It's how you were made and how you will always be, a listener, a hearer of the Shepherd's voice.
You will be a lover of His presence, a worshipper and a carry of His goodness and hope.
You will always yearn and lean into hear His voice, your Father's voice.
You will always wait and move into His good plans for your life.
You will always be loved and you will never be forgotten.

Little one, this is the hard part.  Letting you go, please know it was never easy for us but we love you and trust He loves you more.  That He will tuck you in under His wings and be your tower you can run into.  We love you precious one and we always will.

When we're ready and soon we will be ready, we will remember faintly this deep pain and we will say yes again because yet again, a little life will lay and wait.  This new struggle on letting go, we trust you over and over that when it's unthinkable and we have nothing left, You carry us further and exceed where we thought we could go.  Jesus how You give us courage to love deeply, soak chicken in buttermilk, have hope when it's hopeless, wait in expectancy, and let go.

So tonight we will count down the hours and wait for you to come back home after your visit with her.  Soon she will be your mama but not yet, not today.  Today and every day coming you will be loved and adored not just by us and our world but by your heavenly Father who sees you and knows you.  Letting you go is coming and we know it but tonight you are ours, you always will be ours.